Barbara Larson on how to manage remote teams and stay productive from anywhere
What is the future for remote work and how can we use it effectively? Whether you’re a manager, business leader o →
Given the frequency with which I travel, I recently realised I’ve grown accustomed to asking for specific hotel rooms in over 12 cities. I can also walk you through Munich’s Terminal 2 and point out the strongest WiFi pockets where I work before flights. These have become by-products of having to spend more than half the year on the road. In a time where executives are increasingly expected to maintain a presence across multiple markets, or expand a business across regions, creating an office from your surroundings has become more and more expected. And while working in an open-plan office poses its challenges, working remotely presents a separate set altogether, particularly while travelling. Here, my key thoughts on driving productivity while on the move.
The beauty of a connected workplace is that people have the autonomy to work productively from anywhere. The downside is that almost anywhere is a foreign and disruptive working environment. Much like people who buy a book at an airport and end up watching movies the entire flight, the well-intentioned professional might plan to work while on the move, but get caught up in the constant distraction of a changing travel environment. Around twenty years ago, I first started having to travel with some frequency for work, and I thought I could easily maximise my productivity with red-eye flights and late-night connections essentially stretching my potential work hours each day. Over a decade later, and with my travel plans only having grown, I’ve learned the hard way how to squeeze the most out of a trip.
I used to see travel as something that either interrupted work or was an added layer on top of my actual job. Everyone needs to drop this idea. Work is no longer a place; it’s an overlay on any number of changing surroundings. If you see travel as a block to your work rhythm, it will turn into one. Avoid a pile up by planning travel positively into your productivity cycle.
As you’d prioritise any other tasks, look at your calendar ahead of any trip and cover some basic prep for it. I always wrap up any pending tasks before I leave, and make sure that anything that needs delegating in order to continue is done. This is what’s proven most effective for my sense of routine maintenance while on the road and is the best way to avoid pile ups.
When I first began flying frequently, I thought that the most effective way through an airport was to arrive as late as possible, hurtle through security and make it onto my flight. That way I would be offline for as limited a time as possible. The problem with this is that it still takes up a lot of time, and the gaps you might buy yourself are never enough to do any work. I started to arrive much earlier, giving myself 45-minute windows to work at the gate. It removed a heap of stress and I could block off solid work time.
You know every obstacle you might face when it comes to the tech and travel. I always make sure I have a battery pack or two, headphones to take calls on the move as well as universal adapters. On top of this, we all work across cloud-based platforms. Make sure any offline modes are activated before you hit the road, or that key projects are accessible while you’re moving and without Wi-Fi access.
Those 45 minutes when I’m at the gate? Perfect to hammer out a batch of mail replies before I go offline. The commute I make on touchdown; I can always dial in some calls over a cab ride. Yes, travel is abrasive to your routine, but plan projects for the skies that are actually bettered by your being able to focus on them for a stretch of time or suited to quicker bursts and lower mental energy.
At the end of the day, travel throws unpredictable things at you, and so your resilience and reactions to the unexpected also count. While these points might guide my best-practice for working effectively on the road, frequent travel is still draining. It can be frictionless to sink yourself into work, free of all other distractions at home, but it is crucial to block off some time after work. I always go for a run to explore a new city I’m in, or just clear my head and get some fresh air. Your version could be going on a tour, catching a movie or simply taking yourself out for a dinner. Whatever it is, make sure you set aside that time. Travelling for work is tiring, but it is also a privilege, and setting aside that time will always make sure you’re reminded of it in the little ways.